Volunteering Experiences Around The World

My name’s Danny Newman, I’m 25 years old and a travel blogger, currently based in Bristol, in the UK. Danny Newman is a travel enthusiast with a passion for writing and inspiring others to live fully. He runs a travel blog called Coddiwomp, which is dedicated to helping aspiring travellers travel for the first time. For Danny, the essence of travel is found in the feeling it elicits. He wants to inspire and support as many people as possible to experience this ‘travel feeling’. You can find him on Facebook @coddiwomp and Instagram @coddi_womp.

Please introduce your blog to our readers and what your blog covers.

My travel blog is called Coddiwomp, and is designed to help aspiring travellers go travelling for the first time. I’m also enthusiastic about well-being and making the most of life, so I also incorporate these elements into my writing.

The name Coddiwomp comes from the word Coddiwomple, which is an old English term that means to travel with purpose to an unknown destination. The definition resonates with me on so many levels and I feel it describes the plight of a first time traveler pretty well too!

In its most basic form, Coddiwomp is a website comprised of inspirational and advisory travel content. However, my overall aim is to use it as a platform to bring aspiring travellers and travel lovers together into a supportive online community that has a love of travel at its core.

For me, travel is all about the feeling it elicits and so I talk about this ‘travel feeling’ a lot on Coddiwomp. I try to create content in a way that inspires others to have an adventure of their own and experience the travel feeling for themselves.

What volunteering experiences have you done and where have you done them?

1) Mental Health placement

Experience:
My first experience of travel was on a voluntary mental health placement in Sri Lanka. A team of us lived and worked in the country for two months, getting involved in all manner of projects from the National institute of mental health to special needs homes and orphanages.

Location:
Sri Lanka

Volunteering Experiences Around The World2) Voluntary Assistant Psychologist

Experience:
I travelled to New Zealand a couple of years ago and spend a few months working as an assistant psychologist (AP) to a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist there. It was a brief but incredibly worthwhile placement that provided amazing experience in the field of mental health.

Location:
Whangarei, New Zealand.

Volunteering Experiences Around The World3) Miscellaneous

Experience:
Before focusing on my travel blog I spend a few years gathering all manner of mental health experience in the UK in my bid to become a Clinical Psychologist. As part of this I volunteered at an Old People’s Home for individuals with dementia; a charity for brain injury sufferers called Headway East London, and did another voluntary AP position at a Southampton Hospital acute inpatient unit.

Location:
United Kingdom

Volunteering Experiences Around The WorldHow long did you do it for?

Each voluntary position I have done varied in terms of the length of time I spent there. The longest stint I did was at Headway- the brain injury charity- which I went along to every week for 7 months or so. The shortest length of time in terms of hours worked was the voluntary AP post in Southampton, as I only went down once a week for a few months.

How did you find out about these volunteering opportunities?

Headway and my voluntary mental health placement in Sri Lanka were both through a simple online search! However, I got lucky with New Zealand as the Clinical Psychologist I worked with is a family friend, who was generous enough to set me up with a placement.

The luckiest voluntary position I got was the AP position in Southampton. I’d taken a last minute decision to spend a few days at the Jungle (the refugee camp in Calais, France) helping out with a camp clear up that had been organized in the UK. While I was there I got talking to another of the volunteers who just happened to be brother in law to a head psychologist in Southampton, where I’d gone to university! When I got back to the UK he hooked me up with her email address, put in a good word for me and next thing I knew I had myself a placement at the hospital.

That was an awesome stroke of luck and complete coincidence. However, I think that’s how life works sometimes- you put yourself out there enough times and eventually something unexpected comes your way!

Volunteering Experiences Around The WorldDo you have a recommended places where our readers can find out about volunteering opportunities?

Google is your friend! I’m not too sure about other countries, but in the UK you should definitely check out www.do-it.org, which is full of awesome opportunities.

 

What made you choose the particular volunteering experience or experiences?

Most of my voluntary experience stemmed from my desire to enter the mental health profession, to become a Clinical Psychologist. It is an incredible competitive field to get into in the UK, so you have to get a huge amount of experience to give yourself the best bet of getting on the Doctorate scheme.

However, two of my main voluntary experiences, in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, also combined the mental health stuff with my desire to travel; I was massively fortunate in both instances to have been able to combine the two.

More generally though, I chose to volunteer because I have a deep seated desire to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives- especially those who are less fortunate in some way. I have been exceptionally lucky in life and feel a level of duty to pay it forwards somehow.

What planning or preparation did you need to do prior to your volunteering experience? (travel, visas, languages, courses, etc)

Visas were required for both New Zealand and Sri Lanka, but both were easy enough to get sorted. Otherwise, I needed some sort of prior mental health experience to enable me to access the opportunities. Like most voluntary positions in the UK these days there was a fairly rigorous application process. Without my degree in Psychology and the bits and pieces of experience I’d already done, it would have been far harder to secure my spot in each of the respective places I volunteered.

What are the things you enjoyed the most & least about the volunteering experience / experiences?

What I enjoyed most was the feeling that I was actively contributing to the betterment of peoples’ lives. In every instance I could say for sure that I was doing at least something to help someone else and make a difference, even if it was minute in scale. That thought was hugely rewarding. The benefit of volunteering overseas was that I also gained an insight into different cultures and got to travel as I worked, both of which were great added bonuses.

What I enjoyed least was probably the tough emotional toll it took on me. Working with vulnerable individuals is truly rewarding, but it leaves its mark and if you aren’t careful can lead to your own set of issues! Each voluntary role was emotionally draining, if spiritually uplifting. I found it hard to sustain over time, which is one reason I decided to take some time out in order to focus on my blog.

Volunteering Experiences Around The WorldWhat has the volunteering experiences taught you?

I’ve learned a huge amount from each voluntary position I’ve held. Above all, (and a little out of left field, perhaps!) what stands out in mind is learning how enjoyable and rewarding it is to work for no financial reward.

Working for money is one thing, working for nothing, where you trade your time for no tangible gain, makes it absolutely apparent that your intentions are sound. You’re doing something good purely for the sake of it.

Beyond that though, volunteering has taught me about the joys of working for the benefit of others; about the suffering that many people endure on a daily basis; about the increasing value of spending time on projects greater than yourself or any individual. Volunteering is an immensely powerful and worthwhile endeavour.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to do volunteering? (tips, recommendations blog posts to read or any other info?)

Honestly, just go for it. Plunge headfirst into any experience you can; the rewards of volunteering are immense for all involved.

However, don’t think it’s as easy as putting your hand up and being chosen. It feels backwards (shouldn’t people want to snap up any free support they can get?!) but getting a voluntary position can be as challenging as being awarded a paid role!

If you find yourself in a voluntary position, take it seriously, treat it like a job, be committed and don’t take liberties with the organizations you’re working for- just because you aren’t being paid doesn’t mean you can get away with whatever you like.

And remember that volunteering is not about you- or at least, it shouldn’t be. Occasionally I’ve witness this naive entitlement that some volunteers seem to espouse: that the fact they’re working for no pay somehow entitles them to special treatment or consideration. For me, that’s a self interest that is best left out of any voluntary role.

Instead, dive headfirst into the experience of helping, strive to work solely for the benefit of the organisation /clients you’re volunteering with and put your own interests on the back-burner.

Volunteering Experiences Around The WorldDid you experience anything you did not like about the volunteering experiences you had? (scary situations / difficult situation) etc – how did you overcome them?

The voluntary work I’ve done was almost exclusively in challenging environments, so quite often there were experiences I didn’t like, but which were just part of what I was doing.

In Sri Lanka, for instance, there were lots of things I saw and experienced that I didn’t like- most of which revolved around the poor treatment of people struggling with mental illness.

Mental ill health is heavily stigmatized and misunderstood in Sri Lanka, which has all sorts of social and even political consequences for people suffering in this way.

Generally speaking, if you have a serious mental illness it is easy for you and your family to be alienated from the community, discriminated against and relegated to the outskirts of society. You’re mistreated, grossly under supported and often live in squalid conditions.

Overcoming such issues was beyond our capacity as volunteers, in country only for a brief period of time. However, in our roles we always did whatever we could to support the people we met. We played games, ran activities, sang songs and generally tried to brighten the days of the service users we worked with.

Furthermore, the not for profit organisation we went with, Sri Lanka Volunteers, continues to do great work in the country and has had a massive impact on the way mental health is understood and supported in Sri Lanka. To have been part of that process is immensely gratifying.

How do you see the future of volunteering?

I have no idea! However, I hope it will entail working closely with the communities being supported, allowing them to run the operations and call the shots, as opposed to being dictated to by foreign charities and organizations with vested interests of any sort. If voluntary work is to be done in another country, it should be done purely in that country’s interest and with its local population at the helm of decision making.

Volunteering Experiences Around The WorldWhat two or three things are most important to you in a volunteering role?

1) That the voluntary role has a clear positive impact on the organization or people you’re working for.
2) Being supported and having your work acknowledged and appreciated by the organization you’re volunteering for.
3) That the service users/communities being supported are at the forefront of every action and decision made by the organization.

What interests you most about volunteer work?

I suppose this one relates to what I was saying above about not being paid! I find voluntary work to be the most honest form of labour there is. Your intentions are good and the work is in no way tied to any desire to earn an income. In this way it feels closer to real altruism than work in its usual form (i.e. for money) does.

What tasks / duties did you have to do as a volunteer? (how did you find it)

My tasks and responsibilities varied hugely by the role. In Sri Lanka, they revolved predominantly around planning, prepping and running activities for the various projects in which we worked.

In New Zealand, I’d be shadowing the psychologist, sitting in on sessions, typing up notes, contacting clients, writing reports, doing statistical analyses and more.

At Headway, I’d be doing whatever I could! One week I’d be just ‘on the floor’, moving between clients and having a chat, playing games, going into the art workshop and often running a relaxation/meditational group.

What were your personal goals for this experience / experiences ? (did you achieve them?)

My big goal, beyond wanting to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives, was to get experience working in the field of mental health. Alongside my paid work, I definitely feel like I achieved this.

However, other than that one I didn’t really set myself particular goals for each role. What is interesting now is how some of the more implicit goals I have for life were met so fundamentally through volunteering.

For example: my goal to be happy and content in life. Despite the day to day challenges involved, the time I’ve spent volunteering put me closer to these states of being than most other times of my life. To have a sense of purpose and meaning in life is hugely important; volunteering is great at imbuing life with both.

What aspects of these experiences were you passionate about?

I was always passionate about doing at least something, to in some way improve the day of the people I was working with. Equally, I was passionate about learning how to make that happen. Each voluntary role I did was an education.

Volunteering Experiences Around The World InterviewDo you have any future volunteering experiences that you are planning to do? If so where, what, when?

I actually don’t have any volunteering planned for now. However, I fully intend to do more volunteering throughout my life. In fact, one part of starting my blog was to someday earn an income from it, to enable me to travel and volunteer in any way I can without being restricted by a reliance on the wage from an ‘official’ job. I want to be able to get up and go to places that need immediate support (disaster zones, aid work sites…) without hesitation or logistical concerns, to volunteer wherever and whenever at the drop of a hat.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Kylee
    Reply

    WOW! What amazing experiences you have had! Your experiences (Danny) would make an amazing book! Great article, thank you for sharing.

  • daniele
    Reply

    That’s a beautiful way to travel and help other people at the same time. I love also the manner in which you are trying to spread this kind of philosophy, it’s so great 🙂

  • Jim Jones
    Reply

    Great post! I love your spirit and passion for doing volunteer work while traveling. You mentioned that mental illness is stigmatized in Sri Lanka – to a greater or lesser extent, I think it’s stigmatized everywhere. Thank you for bringing peace and comfort for people struggling with mental illnesses.

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